Members of Castlegar City Council are upset over recent public statements made by a council candidate in the current by-election, and are asking for an apology or proof of allegations.
During the all-candidate forum held at the Castlegar Complex last week, candidate Cherryl MacLeod accused the current council of discussing important public matters behind closed doors during in camera meetings.
“You pretty much only have to sit there once and you know that when they come out… and you sit and watch, the decisions have been made for the most part… Some of those decisions don’t involve personnel, property and legal, which is what the practice should be. They have made their mind up for the most part about lots of things — I would venture most things,” said MacLeod at the forum, attended by approx. 175 people on Oct. 12.
Now some of the city’s councillors are demanding an apology and stating that if MacLeod has proof that council is not being open and transparent — and has a legitimate complaint against them — she should take it to authorities.
“If Ms. MacLeod has some sort of information about in camera meetings I suggest she contact the ministry responsible for local government or the ombudsman’s office,” said Councillor Dan Rye. “To make this type of public statement and not back it up should not be tolerated. A public apology to each council member and senior staff is in order at the very least.”
MacLeod also stated at the public forum how she felt that closed meetings at council aren’t just about personnel, property and legal issues.
“I would also like to see that the closed part of the meeting actually only involves personnel, property and legal — by definition, that is what a closed council meeting should be, anything else other than those three things should be discussed… in public,” she said.
Some members of council felt that MacLeod’s allegations were unjustified.
“I think it is not only unfair, but irresponsible for a council candidate to be levelling accusations at us that have no foundation other than a gut feeling,” said Florio Vassilikakis.
Other councillors defended their own integrity, as well as the integrity of the city’s senior staff.
“There is not a person sitting at the table that does not take the oath of office seriously,” said Councillor Deb McIntosh. “We have staff sitting at the table that have the utmost integrity, professionalism and above all else, the community’s best interest at heart.”
“I am very confident that we and our staff are following the legislation,” said Councillor Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff. “We all take an oath of office, and I for one take that very seriously.”
According to Section 89 of the B.C. Local Government Act: (1) A meeting of a council must be open to the public, except as provided in this Division. (2) A council must not vote on the reading or adoption of a bylaw when its meeting is closed to the public.”
Section 90 goes on to specify when a meeting may be or must be closed to the public due to the subject matter. According to the Act, a meeting may be closed to the public if it involves personal information about an individual being considered for employment, labour relations, acquisition and disposition of city property, law enforcement, litigation, advice subject to solicitor-client privilege, and the consideration of whether a council meeting should be closed or not, among other things.
A meeting must be closed to the public if it involves a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, confidential information relating to negotiations between the City and the Provincial or Federal Government, a matter being investigated under the Ombudperson Act, or a review of a proposed final performance audit report.
Councillors Rye, McIntosh, Heaton-Sherstobitoff and Vassilikakis all responded to a request for comment from the Castlegar News, denying the allegations made against them. Councillor Bruno Tassone responded saying he was “unable to answer any questions regarding in camera discussions.” As of press time the Castlegar News had not received a response from Mayor Lawrence Chernoff.
MacLeod was contacted several times and declined to comment.